Associate Vice-President, International Ian Rowlands in Japan and South Korea

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Tokyo cityscape

I had an excellent trip to East Asia last week, where I had the opportunity to meet with university leaders, government officials, and others in both Japan and South Korea. It is clear to me that the University of Waterloo is well-positioned to grow meaningful engagement with East Asian partners across a range of research, innovation, learning, and community activities for impact. Encouraging this is the:AVPI Ian Rowlands in front of Tokyo Tech sign

  1. broader geopolitical environment,
  2. number of common strengths and interests and
  3. shared commitments to engage in short-term, medium-term, and long-term partnership-building activities.

Japan and South Korea are critical partners for Canada with the two countries playing leading roles in Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.  As part of the strategy, Canada commits to strengthening science, technology and innovation partnerships, connecting people (across a whole-of-society approach), and being an active and engaged partner to the Indo-Pacific region.

Waterloo has been engaging with the Indo-Pacific generally, and Japan and South Korea more specifically, for years.  Research collaborations and student mobility activities have made a significant impact and continue to do so. My trip, however, reminded me of some of the many factors that encourage collaboration and provided further insight into some initiatives that echo Waterloo’s priorities.

Welcome to Japan signJapan and South Korea are global leaders in scientific and innovation investments. By one measure (OECD, 2021), they are the third and fifth largest countries in terms of gross domestic spending on research and development.  Moreover, the areas where they have prioritized their engagement with Canada speaks to many of Waterloo’s strengths and priorities. With Japan, Canada has prioritized artificial intelligence, quantum and high-performance computing, health-related technologies, environmental research, and physics research and development. With South Korea, Canada has highlighted artificial intelligence, battery and electric vehicle value chain, semiconductors, life sciences, and agri-tech.

Seoul street sceneA number of individual universities within each country mirror Waterloo’s activities, rankings, and priorities. Comparing our publication numbers across Scopus’s 27 subject areas with Tohoku University in Japan, for instance, we share three of the top five areas (Engineering, Medicine, Physics and Astronomy), and the two areas we do not share are in the other’s top ten. While bibliometrics do not tell the whole story, they can hint at similarities with partner universities. 

Another example is the comparison between us and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). According to the QS subject rankings, both universities are top 40 in the world for engineering and technology, top 75 in the world for natural sciences, and top 225 in the world for social sciences; additionally, for arts and humanities, and life sciences and medicine, rankings are between 240 and 360 for both universities. While the rankings do not tell the whole story, they can reflect depth and breadth of an institution.

AVPI Ian Rowlands with Yonsei University representativesMy institutional visits allowed me to dig deeper into some partners’ initiatives that mirror Waterloo’s priorities and values.  For example, in light of Waterloo’s leadership on transformative health technologies, it was interesting to learn more about the impact of Tokyo Tech’s merger with Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the resultant prioritization of ‘convergence science’ to ‘guide the advancement of science and work together with society to create a vibrant future.’ Similarly interesting was learning more about Yonsei University’s ‘Global Bio Campus’ and its international reach with respect to biomanufacuturing. There is much to learn, much to share, and much to co-create with valued partners in this region.

Waterloo members who want to follow up on any of the issues raised in this post are encouraged to contact Waterloo International at We would be happy to explore partnership prospects with you.

Moving forward, Waterloo International will continue to engage with our valued East Asian partners (those above and more). We will work to operationalize a number of new student mobility initiatives in which we are involved, and we will be delighted to hear of Waterloo members’ activities, interests, and priorities for higher education work with this part of the world.